Involtini di Melanzane e Ricotta

Photo credit: Bertrand Borie on unsplash.com
Contributor: Ron Fenolio

Can Italian food can exist without melanzane?  Here are a few examples among many others:  Eggplant Parmigiana, Pasta ala Norma, Eggplant Caponata, Grilled Eggplant (often served as part of a variety of grilled Mediterranean vegetables drizzled with balsamic vinegar),  and of course this month’s recipe Eggplant Involtini.

Before starting on the recipe we should understand what involtini means. Involtini does not necessarily have to be linked to eggplant.  Involtini is an Italian word representing various small bites of food consisting of some sort of outer layer wrapped around a filling. The wrapper can be various meats, seafoods or vegetables and the filings can be cheese, vegetables, cured meats and or even nuts. And then of course we can all be confused by the term “rollatini.” Rollatini is not an Italian word. It is an American word created here in America by restauranteurs or in Italian homes, an adaptation of a  “a little roll”, as in “roll” and “tiny,” rollatini, and meant to sound Italian.

Involtini could also be confused with preparations like cannelloni (pasta tubes stuffed with a filling piped out of a pastry bag rather than placed at the end of a wrapping material and then rolled up).  But essentially all the same type of presentation. A savory filling, a wrapper to contain it, and the sauce.  By the way, if you see the word “involto” in the recipe, then it is a “larger” preparation, as in an entrée, rather than finger food or food in bites.  Braciole would be considered an “involto” and is an example of beef being used as the wrapper. So now onto our recipe.

Prep Time: 30
Cooking Time: 50
Servings: 4
Ingredients

2 large globe eggplants
Herbs such as oregano, basil
See notes for other filling ideas
Tomato Sauce
1/4 pound grated Parmesan or grated Pecorino
8 oz Ricotta or more
Fresh basil for garnish
Olive Oil
Kosher salt

Instructions

Get two large globe eggplants and peel them with a vegetable peeler.  Cut them into ¼ inch slices lengthwise. You should get at least six to eight slices out of each eggplant. If too thick they won’t cook through and will taste grassy, and if too thin they will break or tear and won’t hold the filling. So while we say ¼-inch it could be a little thicker but not more than ½-inch.

Salt the slices and let sit for an hour to draw the bitter fluid out of the eggplant not only because you don’t want the bitter flavor but also you don’t want the “eggplant water” to come out in the cooking and make the preparation too watery. Use Kosher or sea salt. Regular iodized table salt is too finely ground and some can taste the iodine as a minerally addition.

Brush the eggplant on both sides with olive oil and place on a baking sheet. For easier cleanup and a non-stick coating line the baking sheet with parchment paper. Roast in the oven for ten minutes, turn over and roast for another ten. They should be golden brown and with a creamy center. Let cool so you can handle them. While the eggplant is cooking and cooling make the filing. Here you can really be creative.  Start with a container of whole milk ricotta (don’t skimp and try to cut calories by using nonfat, the dish won’t come out right) and a quarter pound of grated parmesan or grated pecorino (pecorino will give the dish a more intense, stronger flavor).

Mix them together. You can add some dried Italian herbs if you like, you can add some fresh basil if you like, you can add raisins or dried cranberries or crushed pistachios. In other words, don’t be timid. Make a savory filling to your liking. In Sicily if adding raisins or dried cranberries they might lean on their Arab cultural ties and add some ground cinnamon. Of course, salt and pepper. If not holding together well enough add a beaten egg to the mixture as it will “gel” in the oven.  Just have fun!

Spread the eggplant slices on a wooden chopping block with the wider side toward you. Place a spoonful of filling on each eggplant slice. Taking your fingers start at your end and roll the eggplant slices up into round tubes with the filling inside. You can work faster with a toothpick if you feel it necessary, but it is not really necessary. Instead, start to lay the involtini into a Pyrex (ovenproof) baking dish in which you have put a layer of tomato sauce. Then place the involtini in the sauced dish, and spoon tomato sauce over the top. Sprinkle with parmesan cheese and bake for 20-30 minutes at 350 to 400 degrees until the filling sets and the top gets golden brown. Remove from oven and sprinkle with torn fresh basil leaves and freshly ground pepper.

Wine Pairing Suggestion
Serve and enjoy with a glass of red wine. What kind of wine?  A dry spicey red.  Try a Negroamaro or Primitivo from Puglia. These will pair well with the sauce. For a great pairing to the eggplant flavors, try a dry Italian Riesling from Friuli or a Pinot Grigio.

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